What George Portades is listening to this week…
Out of all the female rappers who debuted in the early 90s, Yo Yo seemed to be the one who became my favorite. I didn’t really become aware of her music until say ’96 when she hosted BET’s Rap City and they played all her videos. She was there to premiere “Same Ol’ Thang (Everyday)” and was promoting her “Total Control” album at the time. With that being a solid album for me, I checked out her earlier albums and fell in love with her songs like “Black Pearl” “The Bonnie & Clyde Theme” and her biggest hit “You Can’t Play With My Yo Yo.” When it came time for her fifth album “Ebony” I was pretty excited with her new glossy and sexy image for the era in addition to her continuing her deal with Elektra Records. This track became the lead single off that project and with its two samples (including an interpolation of Biggie’s “Juicy”) plus the pretty flashy video, I was instantly hooked. Reminiscing about her career while stating very personal details about her life (baby daddy, problems with her A&R), Yo Yo’s verses flowed with the melody and the late Gerald Levert’s vocals on the chorus. It’s a shame the single didn’t do well and the album remains shelved (as did many other Elektra albums at the time), but at least we’ve still got Yo Yo, who recently got married and is finally at work on a new album!
What Michael Ward is listening to this week…
I love an “event.” Yes, with quotation marks. I think that’s why I love pop culture, because pop culture is all about the “events” that bind us. Not the events. Those are the stuff of everyday life and they can range from the trivial to the hugely important. But pop culture is made up of “events”—simulacra which affect importance, and if they do it well, they can take on some of the gravity that they feign. And one thing I love about Arcade Fire is that an Arcade Fire album is an “event.” The band recently dropped their newest album, Reflektor, and the campaign and promotion took a viral slant, including guerilla street art adverts, the invention of a pseudonym for the group, and the first stream of the album playing over Marcel Camus’s 1959 film, Black Orpheus. All of this would be for naught, of course, if the music didn’t measure up. But boy does it. This is easily one of the year’s best albums. The production is lush and sprawling but always precise and polished. Former LCD Soundsystem maestro James Murphy was brought on board as one of the album’s primary producers, and his influence is clear but never tyrannical. It’s an inspired collaboration. The album’s sound feels as big as the band’s ideas, and that bigness never seems lumbering or overwrought. Instead, this is a work that successfully scales the peaks of its own towering ambitions, and that makes for an exhilarating listen.
What Shahab Yunus is listening to this week…
An LP with just 7 songs, but it packs an emotional punch which is remarkably cohesive and surprising in its gentleness. It is so soft and respectful in its attempts that when it ends, you then realize that what has just happened. It opens with a delicate but restless prayer of a song “Strong River.” Dreamy and elegiac, without any pretensions at all, it sets a stage which will end with the chanting “Strong Swimmer.”
Released last week, it is a indie outfit led by nomad Jordan Lee who was just recently based in Boston (now moving to the mecca of the indie music Brooklyn.) The music is constructed with various everyday sounds ranging from chimes or an organ found while visiting a friends’ (Lee) place to squeals of joy and peals of laughter. All of this is augmented with melancholy, soft violins and haunting piano arrangements.. An electronic-folk record, where occasionally Asian influences play a peekaboo, which does remind of a more organic and accessible Bon Iver and have a lot to offer for fans of Youth Lagoon, Iron & Wine or Perfume Genius.
The album is tender, drenched in sweet longing and melancholy (but mind you, never maudlin) and certain pacifism even in its complaints. These cry for helps are moderated with self-respect and eloquence e.g. in “That Light That’s Blinding,” “…and to fall into darkness / until it took over every part of you / to try to sweat out the toxin / to look for god in a empty motel room“. Or from ‘Golden Wake’ when fighting with inner despair turns into recriminations, “…sometimes my heart and brain conspire / to set everything on fire / just to stop the tyranny … we weren’t made to be this way / we weren’t made to be afraid…”.
But the star of this record is “C.L. Rosarian” with is clever title and metaphor of a rose-keeper of care-less love is a song which is hard to not to feel emotional with its heart-breaking and gorgeous chimes and string arrangements. This is shaping to be one of the best tracks that I have heard this year. Sparing in its use of any affectations, it is confident and practical but quietly intense, ”…careless love / careless love / and to stay is something that you wouldn’t do / so I’m letting go to what I’m holding to…”
LCD is much more polished if compared to earlier sporadic work that Mutual Benefit has done and predicts possibly great things in future for Lee and his band.
What Jeffery Berg is listening to this week…
Besides penning music for Sky Ferreira, Britney Spears and Solange, Devonté Hynes of Blood Orange has released two soulful singles that are among the year’s finest. “You’re Never Good Enough” is a smooth, pulsating duet with Samantha Urbani. The second single from his upcoming LP Cupid Deluxe, the song is a bit reminiscent of Chromeo but also recalls the grace and sensuality of Prince’s early grooves.
Late summer single “Chamakay” is a bit trip hoppier mixed with vibraphones and steel drums. It features the pretty, lilting voice of Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, whose singing melts over Hynes’ dusky vocals in a higher register. The beautiful music video, directed by Adam Bainbridge, is still on rotation for me, featuring Dev doing some terrific voguing in Guyana’s magic hour.
So here’s my guilty pleasure of the week. I’ve just seen the notorious Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke potboiler for the first time and it was much tamer than I expected. Little has changed since its release in 1986 because the movie has basically the same plot of 50 Shades of Grey. The film did, however, feature some lovely shots of a bygone era in New York City and an indelible soundtrack. I was also won over by Rourke’s then-sorta-sexiness and Basinger’s quiet charm. Besides the corny Joe Cocker barnburner “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” (a Randy Newman cover) which Basinger stripteases to, there’s also Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love” and John Taylor’s cheesy rocker “I Do What I Do.” There’s also a weird cover of “Bread & Butter” by Devo which laments in a rap interlude finding a lover eating Chicken McNuggets with another man.
Eurythmics’ “This City Never Sleeps” is a haunting tune with sharp imagery (“You can hear the sound of the underground trains / you know it feels like distant thunder”) and it’s probably the song that works best in a scene from the flick—a Basinger dancing-with-herself moment set to a clicking overhead projector.
I was pretty excited to rediscover Luba’s melodic “Let It Go” which played over the end credits and was a favorite of mine as a kid listening to adult contemporary radio in the early 90s but I never knew the artist of the song until now!